The enrollment incentive at Willie Brown Middle School is intended to draw a diverse student body to the Bayview school, which opened in 2015. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SFUSD considers extending enrollment incentive for Willie Brown Middle School

The San Francisco Unified School District may indefinitely extend an enrollment incentive that grants students graduating from Willie Brown Middle School first pick of The City’s high schools.

The requested policy revision, set to be introduced at today’s Board of Education meeting, would extend a provision of the district’s Student Assignment Policy that grants students who enrolled at WBMS as sixth graders in August 2015, August 2016 and August 2017, placement at the high school of their choice. Students must attend the school for grades 6, 7 and 8 to be eligible.

The incentive is called the “Brown Preference” and is meant to draw a diverse mix of middle school parents and students to the Bayview District school.

Currently, the high school admission process gives preference to siblings of current students and then prioritizes WBMS graduates. The only high schools exempt from the Brown Preference are Lowell High School and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, which have their own admission processes and requirements.

But the incentive is only effective for the next three years, starting with 2018-19 WBMS graduates, and education leaders are seeking to change that.

The proposed extension is meant “to continue building robust, diverse enrollment at WBMS.” If approved, the preference would apply to all sixth grade students who enroll at WBMS going forward.

“This is a new school that we are trying to establish — the original idea behind the policy was to give students an extra incentive to try it out,” Board of Education Commissioner Rachel Norton said. “It’s no secret we struggled with enrollment.”

Willie Brown Middle School opened its doors in 2015 with a state-of-the-art campus on the rubbles of the shuttered Willie L. Brown Jr. College Preparatory Academy Dream School.

When the decade-old K-8 school closed in 2012, just 160 students were enrolled, and the school struggled with student diversity.

After $54 million was invested into a new campus featuring labs, a maker space and technology to facilitate a new STEM curriculum, WBMS welcomed its first cohort of some 200 sixth graders in 2015 — filling it to a third of its student capacity — and almost immediately faced challenges of its own.

Two months into the inaugural school year, the school’s first principal, Demetrius Hobson, resigned, followed by a dozen staff members over the first year. In June, Hobson’s replacement, Principal Bill Kappenhagen, left the school for undisclosed reasons after running it for less than two years.

Of the school’s 251 students enrolled at WBMS in the 2016-17 school year, 31.5 percent were new sixth graders and 68.5 percent were seventh graders, according to data published by the California Department of Education. This year, 388 students are enrolled, according to SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe.

Board of Education President Shamann Walton, who is the father of an eighth grader at WBMS, said he has seen “a lot of growth and less teacher turnover” this year.

Still, he said, “Enrollment is not as high as we wanted it to be originally.”

“That’s one of the reasons why we are going to offer [this] golden ticket, if you will, in the future,” Walton said. “We are excited about the students that we do have. The school is a little more diverse than it was when it previously opened.”

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